Posts Tagged 'UWA-P2-other'


A few weeks ago I received an email from someone I know who reads my blog – let’s call him / her “Sam”. Sam made a connection between Turner’s The Wrecked Female Convict Ship, the Amphitrite: Women and Children Abandoned in a Gale (see 12-Oct-2013) and The defence of Rorke’s Drift 1879 by Alphonse de Neuville (see 24-Oct-2013). Sam suggested one could compare the reactions of the captain on the ship with those of the defenders at Rorke’s drift, each facing an elemental onslaught – one by nature the other by the Zulu – one deserting his post the others standing resolute.

I had an instant reaction of outrage – comparing the Zulu to acts of nature is to dehumanise them, making them a mindless force that the valiant British face with courage, rather than a valiant people fighting for their country against invaders. It is racism, totally unacceptable and abhorrent.

Sam I think had no intention to be racist. Her / his idea was about otherness and the choices made by someone faced by an overwhelming external force. The racism inherent in this may be unconscious, but it is there and insidious and deeply wrong.

However Sam is a person who knows a lot more about some things than I do. So I had to question this automatic response I felt. Was this instinctive reaction misplaced? For example, is it appropriate in scholarly debate to consider ideas which one finds anathema? In the end, no. There are some things that are bedrock and cannot be called into question. Respect for the fundamental humanity of each individual is part of my bedrock. My very vague recollections of Descartes is that he gave precedence to the bedrock of his God before he started building again with “I think therefore I am”. Yes, that may have been politically expedient, but one could get lost forever in loops of cynicism. For me, I am less human if I deny the humanity of others. For me a debate premised on the non-humanity of others is meaningless and dangerous and racist.

Could it be that Sam was considering the attitudes of most people at the time those two paintings were produced? Given our wider discussion, which I haven’t repeated here, I don’t think so. Possibly I am mistaken – in which case part of the fault is mine, but I think if discussing anathema one should be very clear about placing it at a distance. Personally I would prefer to avoid it altogether.

“Personally” is a revealing word. While researching ProppaNow (see 5-Jan-2014) I read the phrase “scratch a white Australian and you’ll find a racist”. I so much don’t want that to be true, and fear that in my case it is. Australia is built on racism. I “own” the land my house is built upon on the basis of terra nullius – on the basis of a lie. Yet this country is my home and I love it. Sam is from a country that has not been conquered in centuries. I can’t speak for Sam and his/her country, but in Australia racism is active and current and toxic and must be called out and challenged where-ever it is found. I will not treat it as an intellectual curiosity.

Is this censorship of myself and others? Of a sort. I don’t like censorship but fighting racism, making sacrifices to address the wrongs done and the ongoing disadvantage of Australian indigenous people is more important. And on a personal level it’s not actually censorship or a sacrifice to try to act like the person I would like to be.

This may make me less of a scholar, this emotional reaction. So be it. I think it really means that I am making my studies relevant to myself and my life. I first noticed this back near the beginning of the course when I mused about the meaning of being Australian (see 26-Apr-2013). I noted difficulties about past ideas and attitudes when researching the Enlightenment (10-Oct-2013). I chose proppaNOW as my focus on art in the last thirty years (see 5-Jan-2014). I was in Canberra again for a few days this week and went to the National Portrait Gallery ( as part of my preparation for Assignment 4. The artworks I have chosen to research will continue the theme.

Related reading: A recent newspaper opinion piece suggests cautious optimism for progress – once impossible, now extremely difficult. See Gordon, M. (2014) “Five reasons to be optimistic” In The Age 15-February-2014 [online] Available from (Accessed 15-Feb-2014)

Edit 3-March-2014: There are many ways of measuring physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. A very blunt indicator is life expectancy. 2 in 3 Indigenous Australians died before age 65 (2004–2008) compared to 1 in 5 non-Indigenous Australians. Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

UA1-WA:P2 Part 2 Review

At times it felt like I’d never do it, but I’ve finished the work for Part 2. Time for a review.

First some general comments:
My first post for Part 1 was 17 March and the Review 30 June – 3.5 months. The first post for Part 2 was 8 July and this Review end November – almost 5 months. I need to reverse the trend! Admittedly I started work on Part 3 before finishing Part 2, due to a problem with my town house visit and the trip to Canberra which was focused on works related to Part 3. I’m aiming to finish Part 3 by the end of January – just 2 months. Ambitious, but I think necessary to give it an honest try.

For the few exercises with word limits I go way over. I probably need to edit more carefully – but that would be still more time. Perhaps I research more than appropriate for this level of study. I’ll have to ask my tutor for his comments.

One major goal has been to see as much work as I can in person. It might mean I’m studying “minor” works or sometimes straying outside the course boundaries, but I’m convinced of the value and importance of experiencing work directly. I’ve also tried to bring an Australian flavour to my choices. Is this a narrow, nationalistic attitude? I’d like to think it’s more about making my studies relevant to my own life.

Anticipating possible comments from my tutor, I am confused about the difference between an “annotation” and an “analysis”. I went back through the course notes and there seems to be a significant overlap in requirements. Hopefully what I’ve done is sufficient, but if not there’s the opportunity to adjust things before final assessment (which is a long way away!).

Next the assessment criteria:
Demonstration of subject based knowledge and understanding. My knowledge continues to grow and I feel I am learning lots, quickly. On the other hand it never feels enough – on a course of this scope there’s a limit to the depth possible. I feel this course is giving me a framework of understanding which I will continue to develop, deepen and expand for the rest of my life.
Demonstration of research skills. I believe this is an area of strength. I’ve been able to find some really interesting material, online and in printed books. I’m also learning more of the resources available to me, such as the wonderful library at the NSW Art Gallery.
Demonstration of critical and evaluation skills. I’m definitely becoming more confident about developing a point of view and expressing it. It feels a little exposed on a public blog, because I’m sure some of what I write is nonsense, naive or just plain wrong. It would be great to have the opportunity to debate concepts with others, I could learn a lot from it, but at the moment I can’t see a way of making that happen for myself.
Communication. A mixed bag here. I think sometimes I write too much – so many words that no-one could wade through it all. There’s just so much that I find interesting (apparently one of my favourite words!) and I want to capture it all. I try not to stray off topic too badly, but this is my blog and learning log and I find it a really useful ongoing resource so allow myself some latitude. When it comes to assessment time I’ll have to produce some nice information boards and that will be the time to really focus. (I also split infinitives. I’m a moderately modern woman.)

The above seems a little nice to myself, but I really do believe I am working hard, learning lots, having fun, and very much meeting my personal objectives. Whether that meets course, tutor and assessor objectives is a different question – and not mine to answer.

The actual Part 2 Assignment asks for some of the specific reports done plus allows for my selection. This was really hard. I’ve really enjoyed working on the annotations and I don’t want to choose. I hope my tutor is happy with what I’ve done – and if not, it’s another learning opportunity (even if not a favourite one). Links to the various assignment parts and my submission can be seen at

Sculpture by the sea Bondi 2013

On Friday I visited this year’s Sculpture by the sea. See posts 2-Nov-2012 and 15-Nov-2011 for previous exhibitions.

washed up Tunni (Antony) Kraus

washed up
Tunni (Antony) Kraus

From a distance this large work by Tunni Kraus was an amazing wreck with beautiful textures in the battered materials. I had to walk closer to understand what was inside.
Bunches of flowers, like those you see left outside gates or on roadsides where there’s been a fatality. “Asylum seekers” or “people smugglers and their customers” depending on your politics. Look past the rhetoric and mourn those lost.

nomadic city: lest we forget Sally Kidall

nomadic city: lest we forget
Sally Kidall

This is just part of an installation of small greenhouses on bamboo rafts. The artist’s statement: “A commemorative work to all nomadic communities displaced from their homelands as a result of catastrophic events, social or religious conflict, or economic environments”. For me there was such hope, such positive energy acknowledging loss but looking forward to a fruitful future. How can we help people who have lost everything to begin building new lives? Perhaps make a start with lots of small, simple steps.

saved (rusty pipe) Rox De Luca

saved (rusty pipe)
Rox De Luca

A strong sub-theme through the exhibition was around excess, waste and recycling. Some got a bit preachy, but others managed to get beyond their message to something interesting or beautiful. I love the texture and variety of this work by De Luca, which at the detail level reveals itself to be plastic rubbish from the beach wired together and wrapped around a rusty pipe.

Let your palm do the walking Tom Blake

Let your palm do the walking
Tom Blake

Keeping with the general shape of a column of texture, this “palm tree” by Tom Blake was made up of many, many telephone directories. Lovely texture and a nice witty title, but I thought it was let down by the green “fronds” that were plonked on top. The transition was awkward.

flow  Alison McDonald (2011)

Alison McDonald

The materials in Alison McDonald’s work are described as “upcycled plastic lids, cable ties”. It looked like a huge crocheted blanket draped down the cliff, following contours and in some sections with brave little flowers showing through. It reminded me of El Anatsui’s Anonymous Creature which I saw at the MCA during Biennale last year (see 27-Aug-2012). In that case the bottle tops were aluminium, but it produced that same interesting contrast of draping in a hard material.

the great bondi sharehouse Margarita Sampson

the great bondi sharehouse
Margarita Sampson

I’m always looking for textile connections in artworks, and there is more in Margarita Sampson’s work. Not the best photo (click on it for larger. My closer ones were worse), but it does have the extra advantage of showing some of the crowd enjoying the day. I love the little creatures finding a home together in that rocky block (of flats?). Bondi is (or used to be) known for shared households of students, backpackers and others with limited budgets – in fact when I first met my husband he was sharing a duplex just 100 metres away. Sampson’s work is an amusing reminder of the mix of people and oddments of collected and found furniture.
20111114_sculpture_sea_05In fact I’m pretty sure that in a similar spirit Sampson has reused parts of her work the yearning from 2011, which was displayed in the same area (see post 15-Nov-2011).

east of the mulberry tree - the legend of the ten red crows Mikaela Castledine

east of the mulberry tree – the legend of the ten red crows
Mikaela Castledine

The most overtly textile-related piece was this by Mikaela Castledine, in which she used crocheted polypropylene and a steel frame. Her artist statement: “The legend of the ten red crows describes birds as bringers of enlightenment to a world not ready or able to accept it”.

This takes me back to the recent question of mythological themes in art (see post 2-Nov-2013). I wasn’t familiar with the myth referenced by Castledine, and based on her brief statement looked at the work thinking of people refusing to listen. At home a quick search led to and a longer version of the story which suggests the danger – the heat of the crows was destroying the land. The blackened tree in the sculpture depicts this, but I didn’t understand at the time. I see the image rather differently now and I’m glad I put the effort into learning and thinking a bit more. It’s a legend worth reading and retelling.

site shift Veronica Herber

site shift
Veronica Herber

In such an amazing place it’s very satisfying to see works that respond to the site. The artist’s materials here were masking tape and time. I think this is beautiful. It transforms a place by looking at it very, very closely and carefully. In one way it’s all about the idea – so clever, so unexpected – but the physical result for me works really well because of the combination of intricate detail and large scale.

sbts13_herber02Every bump in the land is catered for, every rock and each weed and tussock. It reminded me of stained glass, say by Leonard French (see the amazing ceiling at NGV, but in a way celebrating the earth and the place instead of light.

a shared weight Elyssa Sykes-Smith

a shared weight
Elyssa Sykes-Smith

These crouching figures supporting the cliff face were fun and beautiful. Instead of the heroic, solitary Atlas of myth (!), here two human-sized figures heave up the rock, sharing their burden. Maybe in a few moments they’ll gain their feet and the whole continent of Australia will tip over.

look at me Rebecca Rose

look at me
Rebecca Rose

Isn’t the pattern of shadows here wonderful? The aluminium “fronds” of this work were moving slightly in the breeze and combined with the uneven surface of the sand created constant change in a pattern that was so nearly but never quite regular. Mesmerising!

horizon Lucy Humphrey

Lucy Humphrey

This bubble of water (well, acrylic sphere of water) was perched high on a corner of the cliff and from the beach below looked like some sort of earth-moon rising.
Tamarama beach, forty years ago, a summer morning Julian Ashton 1899

Tamarama beach, forty years ago, a summer morning
Julian Ashton

It was rather a nice coincidence the next day at the NSW Art Gallery to notice the same cliff, this time looking towards the beach, with another moon rising. I was there looking at some of the “Australian Impressionist” paintings – more in another post soon! Details on this work can be found at

Returning to the present day, it was fun to stand up on the cliff, watching the waves below and the image reversed in Humphrey’s work.

snake Phil Price

Phil Price

Just like the water, the wind was constantly changing, particularly on the highest point of the cliff. I took a series of photos of this work by Phil Price and in each one the shapes made against the sky were different. It was noiseless and seemed effortless, although I’m sure it took all sorts of cleverness and precision to achieve.

Looking back at the last three works, they are a nice combination playing with the movement of light, water and air.

life reflection xx #1 Byung-Chul Ahn

life reflection xx #1
Byung-Chul Ahn

The other constantly moving and irresistible force at the exhibition was the mass of people. Byung-Chul Ahn’s artist statement explains “the work depicts the transformation of life, from the simple form as a seed to the emergence of new life from within” but on that day at that place the life transforming and emerging was the crowd. The sun was shining, on this high point the wind was buffeting, that beautiful blue sea was surging below – all of that, and the crowd, captured and reflected in this streamlined shape, encapsulating the day.

a tale of romance Kathy Holowko

a tale of romance
Kathy Holowko

The final element – my mum, here mimicking a lyrebird. A wonderful woman, and I am very lucky to share such days with her.

All artist statements from: Sculpture by the Sea Incorporated (2013) sculpture by the sea: sixteenth annual exhibition Bondi 2013 Catalogue and site map. Sydney: Sculpture by the Sea Incorporated.

The Art of Australia

See for information about this 3 part series presented by Edmund Capon. It’s the story of art in Australia and the role it has played in the development of our nation.

The first episode was last Tuesday night and is available on the website. Presumably the rest will go up after broadcast. Well worth watching.

Artist talks

In the past week I’ve been to two artist talks hosted at COFA (College of Fine Arts at University of NSW)


First some links:
* brief information about the
* Ruth’s website: (take some time to explore it).
* More photos of Ruth’s work:
* An interview with Ruth, focused more on travel to West Timor:

Ruth grew up in Australia, married in West Timor and lived there for 10 plus years, and now is more in Australia but somewhere in between. Her talk, which she read, was mostly in english, sometimes in Bahasa. It was mostly in the first person, sometimes in the third. She told a lot of stories, but not a single linear narration. Her practice is not simple or contained in boundaries – for her, her practice is the same as her life. Her conversations, reading, thinking, writing, textiles – all parts of her practice. A hard part being how to “present” when there was no outcome or resolution, but ideas that may converge or coalesce for a moment then continue in multiple directions. Her talk was part of her practice, Ruth experimenting with her ideas as she read.

A major strand was being other – the loss of identity living in a different world where there was no idea of “artists”, no galleries, an unknown language. Her life became a performance, an improvisation, where any feeling of confidence or certainty would be closely followed by a trip-up. In ten years no-one, not once, asked what she did. They were interested in family and social connections.

Working on a PhD gave Ruth a lifeline – deadlines and purpose. She focused on small decisions and movements in the moment, on conversation as a tactic for making sense, on writing as thought made audible, visible, as if language constructs the entire world. Ruth spoke about the point where blindness and light meet, about exploring and processing, about the arrogance of familiarity, about response ability.

Ruth’s slides of her work showed her writing on gallery walls, making shapes and patterns with words in pencil, or by pinning thread to the walls to make the shapes of words. She pins or hangs little shapes on the wall, or layers shapes of tracing paper and words.

I feel I should finish this with comments about what this could mean in my work. Ideas about identity and light and layering all attract – but so far not even partial resolution.


The links:
* brief information about the talk:
* Pat’s website:
* A video of Pat talking about some of her work at an exhibition:
* Some more information:

Pat started by showing us a slide of a gut parka from Alaska – you can see one here. Since she first came across it this material has fascinated Pat. It has qualities that she hasn’t found in anything else – the way light passes through it, how it can be shaped or wrapped around something when wet, how when dry it seems fragile but (if layered) is actually quite strong and stable, the organic shapes it forms. Pat uses other materials as well, but the hog gut (pig intestines more often used as sausage casings) is a major part of her work. She has combined it with rusty nails, creating marks that seem like a universal language. She has layered it into large sheets, capturing the marks made by a rusty door. It can be “dribbled” over sticks or objects to make flexible linear elements.

The shapes Pat creates seem to become components that she mixes and displays in different configurations in various installations. It could look like lines of writing pinned to a wall in one orientation, then become a kind of ethereal shadow forest hanging from the ceiling.

On a different twist in materials and scale, Pat showed us work based on knotted nets. In this case the work was scaled up hugely – it looked like she had knotted sheets – and then cast in metal to make gates. Another series of work was based on waxed paper, often old to-do lists, which Pat stitched on in waxed linen thread to form shapes and marks and words.

When talking about her career history Pat showed us some slides of Turkish needle-lace used in edging headscarves. A woman’s dowry would include perhaps 40 headscarves, capable of giving a whole range of emotional messages. For example wearing a scarf edged with red peppers could mean arguments at home, while another scarf could announce a pregnancy.

Still no neat conclusions, but this talk has me thinking about materials and conveying meaning. In Textiles: A Creative Approach we were encouraged to experiment widely with materials and that makes a lot of sense for students. A lot of Pat’s work has been done in one material – novel to most viewers but not, now, to her. It’s not that she restricts herself to it, but somehow knowing what she is using frees her to explore ideas.

Workshop: Weaving with Frances Djulibing

There was very little directly textile-related in my Top End holiday (see 29-Aug-2013). Happily the day after our return I was able to fill this gap partially at a workshop at the Museum of Contemporary Art, led by Frances Djulibing from Ramingining, in the east of Arnhem Land.

Frances showed us two techniques. The first was a basket weaving / twining technique using pandanus, similar to the class with Aaron Broad (15-Aug-2013).

banyanThe second technique was preparing and spinning a yarn or string from the aerial roots of the banyan tree. On the right is a photo I took in Darwin of a banyan known as The Tree of Knowledge. The Civic Centre was basically built around it. Some of those verticals are supports put in to help the tree, but most are the tree’s aerial roots.

Frances had a bundle of roots, each around 25 or 30 cm long and perhaps 2 cm in diameter.

Frances_Djulibing_03The first step was to scrape away the outer layer of bark and the green layer just beneath it, using a sharp blade. This was a fairly slow and careful process – you don’t want to go too far and take off the inner bark.

Frances_Djulibing_04Next Frances pounded the root between two stones. She kept turning the root, pounding on all sides and along the length. The fibres of the inner bark started breaking up, loosening from the root inside. Eventually Frances was able to slip the outer bark from the root, slipping the tube of bark off like a sock.

Frances folded up the tube of inner bark and kept pounding on it, further separating the fibres.

Frances_Djulibing_05With a bit more pounding the inner bark became a mass of long fibres. Frances was able to pull small groups apart quite easily.

On some of the photos you may be able to see the moisture on the rocks. It was released from the roots during the pounding. Frances created a pile of root fibres and let them dry out a little before moving on to the spinning process. They were still moist, but not wet.

Next came spinning, in a wonderfully clever and efficient process that created a balanced two ply string of whatever length you wanted with no tools other than your own body. It was also one of those classic things that look smooth and easy when done by an experienced person and turns out to be a physical impossibility when you try it yourself.

In other spinning I’ve done, using a spinning wheel or a spindle, you start by twisting your fibres together always twisting in one direction, gradually catching more fibres in and creating a length – “singles” or one ply. It’s quite unstable and if released from tension would just untwist and fall apart. So as you go you wind it under tension on a bobbin (if using a wheel) or on the spindle. If you look at the individual fibres in the length you can see they all slope in one direction as they twist down the length you’ve created. It depends on which way you twisted, but say for this example as you look at the length the fibres all come from the top left and move down to the right, like “\” or the middle line of a capital S (so known as S-twist).

To create a balanced, stable yarn that doesn’t fall apart you spin two bobbins of S-twist singles. Then spin again, this time with the two singles as input instead of individual fibres, and twisting in the opposite direction – “/” or Z-twist in our example. If all goes well you end with a nice length of two-ply yarn. The S and the Z twists balance each other out. With just a single length of S-twist, if you tried to put in Z-twist it would just fall apart, but because you have two lengths of S-twist they twist around each other in the Z operation and it all holds together.

Too many words, but with just a bit of practice it works and you can get fancier and fancier with variations.

Frances, almost magically, added both twists in one operation, using just her hands and leg.
Frances_Djulibing_06The diagram on the left shows the yarn as it is being created – like a “Y” lying on its side (and the S and Z also on their side). At points number 1 are the two bundles of banyan fibres coming in. At points number 2, S-twist has been added to the individual fibres. In the photo above on the left Frances is doing this by rolling the two ends down her leg under the palm of her hand. Where the twist is being added to the two bundles they are kept slightly apart under her hand.

At point number 3 the two S-twist bundles have been combined in a Z-twist string. In the photo above on the right Frances is doing this by rolling the combined bundles up her leg, held together under her thumb.

While working Frances always had the “Y” shape under her hands. The base of the “Y” kept getting longer as more 2-ply string was created. Frances kept adding new fibres to the arms of the “Y”, twisting them in with the fibres already in progress. So the rhythm was:
* add some fibres to one of the arms
* roll down the leg on the two separated arms of the “Y” to add S-twist
* roll back up the leg with the two arms together to combine them in a Z-twist
* give a tug to the newly created bit of string to check for strength.
* repeat

The focus of work was always just a centimetre or two right near the junction of the “Y”, converting just that little bit from bundles to S-twist singles to Z-twist two ply. Frances was constantly controlling where in the length twist was being added by pinching and releasing at different points. It was beautiful to watch.

Sorry this is all very wordy and unclear – more a reference for myself.

I keep wandering around the house, trying to find an equivalent material to use in creating a yarn. Even if I had access to banyan roots I wouldn’t want to use it for more than a try. winter_weaving_5It’s like using wire from a power cable and weed-trimmer line for my tiny basket – I want to combine these techniques with materials natural to my own, personal environment. I’ll have to keep thinking and looking…

Holiday to the Top End

NT_map1I’ve been on holiday – up to the Top End of Australia with my mother. The map shows our route – the flight from Sydney to Darwin (4 to 5 hours), then driving in a 4WD coach to the Mary River, through Kakadu, a few days in Arnhem Land, up to the Cobourg Peninsula, then a flight back to Darwin and home.

I’m finding it hard to package the experience into a neat blog post. Crocodile stories seemed a good place to start, but only a few days later a man was taken by a croc while swimming just a few kilometres from where we saw our first (see news story at There are warning signs all over the place, but a dreadful price for one poor decision.

There was plenty of other wildlife, although most of the larger (buffalo, wallabies, banteng…) escaped my camera.

The country itself.

And the art.

Click on any of the photos above to go to slide shows and larger versions. I’m not often lost for words, but this country is breathtaking.

Basket weaving workshop

winter_weaving_1A few weeks ago I went to an evening Winter Weaving demonstration and workshop at the Art Gallery of NSW. The workshop was led by Aaron Broad, an Indigenous artist from the south coast. Aaron brought in lots of different things for us to look at, plus all the materials we needed to have a go ourselves.

winter_weaving_2I’m not sure, but I think this might be the first basket Aaron ever made. Very, very nice. Unfortunately I just couldn’t get the idea of what to do. I kept trying to translate Aaron’s words into my own “weaver-speak” – pretty silly given I’m a loom weaver and can’t recall ever having tried basket weaving before.

winter_weaving_3This is the little “basket” I made. Line it with feathers and it might work as a nest for a really tiny bird, if it was willing to risk spiking itself on the way in!

winter_weaving_4The start was a particular challenge. By the end I thought I had an idea of what I should have done.

I should hasten to add that none of my struggles are a reflection on Aaron. On reflection I think it was my attitude, very goal oriented (after a long, demanding and goal-filled work day). Things got better when I became aware of my own tension and just relaxed and started enjoying the journey and the occasion.

winter_weaving_5It was really nice to be making something with my hands again. I’m enjoying the Art History course very much and putting all my available time into it. That evening I realised I need to shift the balance.

winter_weaving_6The next day was a non-work one. I decided to try again, but this time using some non-traditional materials I collected during Textiles 1: A Creative Approach. My foundation “canes” are wires stripped from an old computer power cable. The “weft” (not sure if that’s the right term in basketry) is a mixture of some polypropelene tubing and some weed trimmer line (that lovely translucent blue first used back in an exercise posted 22-Sept-2012). I rather like it. Even the bottom went well.

UA1-WA:P2-p1 Project 1 Review, plus some tutor feedback

Time for a brief review of the work done for Part two Project one: Mythology in the High Renaissance. Here I’ll follow the order of the course notes rather than as I attempted exercises.

Engraving Published by: Johannes Boel After: Marten van Cleve I Print made by: Philips Galle, Arachne (1574) © The Trustees of the British Museum,0520.436&page=1

Engraving Published by: Johannes Boel After: Marten van Cleve I Print made by: Philips Galle, Arachne (1574)
© The Trustees of the British Museum,0520.436&page=1

For a Research Point on paintings of a mythological subject I chose the story of Arachne and Minerva (see 8-July-2013).

Looking back now I see that I became somewhat distracted by different translations of the text – fascinating, but not the goal of the research. The two artworks I focused on were very different in their treatment of the myth. This print of the Netherlandish school uses the myth in a factual way as a personification of textile production.

Peter Paul Rubens, Pallas and Arachne (1636–37) Image used with kind permission of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,_Sculpture_+_Works_on_Paper/Rubens,_Peter_Paul_58_18_Pallas_and_Arachne.aspx

Peter Paul Rubens, Pallas and Arachne (1636–37)
Image used with kind permission of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,_Sculpture_+_Works_on_Paper/Rubens,_Peter_Paul_58_18_Pallas_and_Arachne.aspx

The second work was painted around sixty years later and is a dramatic and emotional moment in the story. I’ve now started reading in the course textbook (Honour and Fleming, 2009) about Baroque painting in the seventeenth century, including quite a lot of information about Rubens. For some reason I’ve had fixed in my mind an association of Rubens with Italy, but although he spent some time in Italy and diligently studied the works of the masters there he trained and lived most of his life in or near Antwerp. This geographical link makes the contrast between the two works seem even more pronounced.

Nicolas Régnier Hero and Leander (c. 1625-1626) Image provided by NGV

Nicolas Régnier
Hero and Leander
(c. 1625-1626)
Image provided by NGV

Working on an annotation of this painting of Hero and Leander drove home to me the value of seeing the work in person (see post 23-July-2013). There are few overt symbolic “clues” to the myth given here, and one I completely misread in the web image – sea shells, not garlic! That direct, personal experience also helped me to build a connection to the work, in some sense to experience it as well as look at it. In his report on my first assignment my tutor commented favourably on my increasing use of emotive language. I’ve been trying to push that further, to respond to artworks and not just analyse and dissect them in an intellectual way.


Plate: Europa and the bull
Pesaro, workshop of the Zenobia painter
c. 1552-60

My choice of subject for an exercise on analyzing a sixteenth-century Italian painting felt a little dangerous, although I believe it meets all the stated requirements. I gave my rationale in my post (see 28-July-2013).

Wanting to do some more in-depth research on this piece led me to another great local resource, just downstairs from where the plate itself is displayed – the Edmund and Joanna Capon Research Library at the Art Gallery of NSW ( Not only is this a treasure trove of information, I just loved being there – quiet and calm, surrounded by interesting books, light flooding into my study carrel from the windows above, in a new corner of one of my favourite places in Sydney.

ngv_03In fact my local art gallery felt so much one of my safe and familiar places that I deliberately went elsewhere for the required visit to an art gallery. For that I travelled down to Melbourne, to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV – see 21-July-2013). In that report I focused on the International building of NGV. I didn’t mention the clever way NGV co-ordinated exhibitions. While I was there the Monet’s Garden exhibition was on in the International exhibition space (, showing works from The Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris. In the Australian exhibition space was AUSTRALIAN IMPRESSIONISTS IN FRANCE ( I spent a morning at the Australian Impressionists exhibition, but will delay writing about it until I reach that period in my studies.

That Australian content remains a major goal for me in as much of the course as I can manage, and my tutor was happy with my adaptation of assignment one tasks to Australian conditions. When in Melbourne it was an amazing experience to actually hold and leaf through the Book of Hours at the State Library of Victoria (see my annotation of 22-June-2013 and the story of my visit posted 17-July-2013) – something so unexpected and that I still can’t quite believe, and certainly impossible if I hadn’t kept that local focus. It was an incredible bonus on a trip that was aimed at the older artworks displayed in the NGV. Scale is an interesting thing. Seeing that Book, how it fit into my hands, enforced the idea of its original purpose and the people who used it. Being small also made it more precious, more jewel-like. In contrast, having Régnier’s Hero and Leander fill my field of vision intensified the emotion of the captured moment.

I received my tutor’s feedback on Assignment One very quickly, just as I was beginning this project. Overall it was very positive and encouraging. Unfortunately the Assignment essay itself was a complete miss – I totally misread the question (a review of the textbook). I focused on the practical usability of the book, ignoring the content and issues such as any prejudice or assumptions in the selection of material included. Perhaps my situation as a female non-indigenous Australian with a particular interest in textiles led me to expect and accept a bias in any “comprehensive” textbook, with little attention given to my direct concerns. My current plan is to return to the Assignment before assessment but after I have completed reading for the course – who knows, perhaps I’ll find mention of Australia beyond the tiny page and a half allocated to indigenous art.

Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.

UA1-WA:P2-p1 Project 1 Review
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part two: From the High Renaissance to Post-Impressionism
Project one: Mythology in the High Renaissance
Topic: Review

A Book of Hours and the State Library of Victoria

This isn’t one of my would-be-academic posts. I’ve been on a little emotional roller-coaster – let me take you on a journey…


Horae B.M.V. : illuminated ms. on vellum
Paris ca. 1490
State Library of Victoria

Not too long ago (22-June-2013) I wrote an annotatation on an illumination from a Book of Hours and included the comment that it was on exhibition and I might be able to see it if I got to Melbourne in the next few months. Last week I made an opportunity to go to Melbourne. Off the flight, bags left at hotel, straight to the library, up to the Mirror of the World exhibition, raced around it – and the book wasn’t there.

Deep breath (or two or three). This time I went around slowly and carefully. It’s a small book, I could have missed it…

It still wasn’t there.

This time I had to sit down while I took a few more breaths. All wasn’t lost – I had big plans for things to see at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV – more on that another post). But I should check – perhaps I’d made a mistake and The Book was in a different exhibition. I went down to the Information Desk and was probably fairly incoherent (it had been a 4:00 am start after all), and at one point I had the library website open on my phone while the librarian helping me was searching through their system and two of his colleagues were brought into the conversation. Eventually we concluded that The Book had been in the exhibition but had now been rotated out. They explained that The Book was all digitized and available on the web (, and I agreed that it is a wonderful resource and I’d used it and appreciated it, and I was just hoping to see the book itself because you get the scale and the colour and the reality of it.

The librarian’s next question took me quite a while and a few repetitions to understand and I still find it hard to believe. Would I like them to request it from storage? It was too late for the deliveries that day, but perhaps sometime tomorrow? I went into incoherent mode again, but eventually got out that I would like that very much. So the librarian filled in a little form and took my phone number. It was still a little unclear exactly where The Book was and whether any of this would actually happen. So I went off to spend some happy hours with Poussin and Rembrandt (more later!) and tried not to expect too much.

The next morning I got a phone call from Des, a librarian in the Rare Books area. When would I like to come in? We settled on 3:00 pm, and after another happy few hours at NGV I arrived only half an hour early, and managed just enough patience to last until 2:55 before going in.

SLVBookOfHours_visitThe photo on the left was taken at 3:23 pm. The hand in that white glove is mine. I still feel a mixture of wonder and disbelief and excitement and breathlessness and just the smallest tinge of nausea. What an incredible privilege.

Des had met me at the front security desk and we had a pleasant chat walking through to the Rare Books area off the Redmond Barry Reading Room (thinking back I think Des collected quite a bit of information about my background and interest in the manuscript – not vetting as such, but perhaps reassurance that I was OK despite chronic episodic verbal dysfunction (aka incoherence)). Our destination was a secure area, and just inside was a large table with book pillow and white gloves laid out ready, plus a small box.

SLV_Box1SLV_Box2I’ve taken a couple of photos of the box because of a strong feeling that some day I’ll be making a work based on it. Aged Care, my final work for Textiles 1: A Creative Approach, used a container in a very claustrophobic trapped sort of way (see 20-May-2013 and 16-Feb-2013). I would love to make a different kind of container, one full of treasures and wonders.

SLV_BookClosedHere is The Book, sitting on its pillow. The binding is 19th century, not original, and the gilt edges of the pages would also have been added by a collector at some point. Des also photocopied some pages with more information about The Book (Manion, M. and Vines V. (1984) Medieval and renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts in Australian collections. (Melbourne: Thames and Hudson)) which has just led me on some delightful internet searching, through Rogier van der Weyden and back to another painting I saw in Melbourne at the NGV (see

Des left me alone with the book. I could turn the pages and look as long as I liked at whatever I liked (being careful of the tight binding). I have no words to describe seeing and holding and leafing through that little book. Everything was more so – the book was smaller than I expected, the pages firmer, the lettering crisp and clear, the ink a beautiful translucent colour, the diacritical marks dancing on the page, such smooth variation in line width, and the actual illuminations – colour so vibrant and solid, lines so fine, the flush on the Virgin’s cheek, her pale skin and Joseph’s swarthy colouring… Well, perhaps I have lots of words, all inadequate.

reading_room_slvBefore moving on, a quick look at the library’s domed reading room, which is celebrating its centenary this year. The library was founded in 1854 and was one of the first free public libraries anywhere. There was a lovely quote on a poster in the foyer (bad me – was busy being nervous and didn’t write it down) along the lines that any respectable person could use the library – they didn’t need a coat, just clean hands. Des told me they used to have a wash basin ready at the entrance.


No Instagram images were found.

Calendar of Posts

October 2022

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.